Broaden the Southwest LRT debate

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As the Metropolitan Council begins mediation to resolve thorny disputes with the City of Minneapolis over the planned Southwest light rail line, little-heard advocates for the environment and the disadvantaged are seeking to join the negotiation.

Unlike the resistance to change of St. Louis Park suburbanites and wealthy residents of the Minneapolis lakes district, the newly formed People’s Transit coalition is touting the potential benefits of the Southwest project and calling for parallel improvements that would better serve the impoverished North Side.

The group has launched a web site and scheduled a public forum with Met Council members at 2 p.m. Saturday at the headquarters of coalition leader Minnesota Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, 911 W. Broadway, Minneapolis.

“As we develop a billion-dollar light rail project, we need to make sure the communities that rely most on transit will benefit from it,” said Michael McDowell, NOC’s transit organizer. “This is a crucial opportunity for us to increase racial equity in our transit system, and it make it work better for all of us.”

In addition to the lead group, the coalition includes TakeAction Minnesota, ISAIAH, the Harrison Neighborhood Association and the Sierra Club, whose North Star Chapter land use chairman Alex Tsatsoulis said the Southwest will provide vital access to jobs and help create “a more sustainable and resilient Twin Cities region.”

Other goals of the group focus on north Minneapolis, where two light rail stations are planned on its southern edge. They include:

  • More North Side bus routes, heated bus shelters and more frequent service connecting to the Southwest.
  • Reduced or free bus fares at some stops “to promote a more diverse ridership.”
  • Modern streetcars on narrow corridors to “reverse the disinvestment of the past with new jobs and housing.”
  • Targeted Harrison neighborhood development under the Bassett Creek Valley Master Plan.

Some progressives have criticized the proposed Southwest alignment for its emphasis on a fast trip to the suburbs, skirting busy commercial corridors in Minneapolis. Considerations of cost and logistics also went into that Met Council decision. But the preferred route also offers improved access for city residents to growing employment in the suburbs. An organized voice for these and other less privileged interests is a welcome addition to the LRT debate.